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Posts Tagged ‘lessons

Yesterday I shared some simple and general things I learnt from my visit to Amsterdam. Today I share what I learnt about the people I met and even those I did not meet in person.

The Dutch seem to possess a dry wit. I know this from the way street artists and window dressers expressed themselves.

In the windows and walls of #amsterdam #jordaan #funny #creative

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In the windows and walls of #amsterdam #jordaan #funny #creative

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The people I dealt with — from the public transport ticket agent to the sandwich lady to the SIM card guy — were very direct. Their mindset could be represented by this sign I saw at a knick-knack shop: Be nice, or go away.

Sign: Be nice, or go away!

I was nice, so I did not go away. But in being nice, I used phrases that did not work. For example, I revisited a sandwich shop that I chanced upon and discovered that the friendly old man was replaced by a seemingly uptight lady.

As I was there at opening time, I asked, “Are you open for businesses?” The lady replied, “Well, the door is open.”

Me: I mean… Are you ready to serve?

She: Let me wash my hands.

Me: (Waiting silently, looking at all corners of the store)

She: (At the sink area) You can order. I am not facing you, but I can hear you.

I made conversation about meeting the old man who told me that they were going to sell piccante, a spicy meat. I ordered two piccante sandwiches and my wife wanted two small slabs to bring home.

While the sandwiches heated up, the lady cut a few slices of piccante for us to nibble on.

I wager that these are the best dang bacon or sausage sandwiches in #amsterdam #jordaan

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I not only learnt where the best sandwiches in Amsterdam were, I also learnt how to be more direct with the Dutch.

The Dutch in the service industry were also prompt. Very much so.

I only exchanged emails with the host of my apartment. He said that he only had a landline, but I suspect that my emails to him were rerouted through an app on his phone or computer. Our email exchanges quick that they felt more like being on WhatsApp.

Montage of some screenshots of a display at the #vangoghmuseum #amsterdam

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I also emailed the Van Gogh Museum because I wanted to get tickets in advance. I had an I Amsterdam card that allowed me to get into the museum for free. However I noticed that:

  • There was an online time slot booking system
  • People queued to get tickets in one line
  • The same people queued again in another line to get in
  • Some people used their phones to skip the first line

I wanted to know if I could get a mobile-based ticket by choosing time slot online with my I Amsterdam card. I emailed the museum and got a reply. The bad news was that I had to queue twice. The good news was that the reply arrived within an hour.

Some folks here take pride in being efficient or productive. I challenge that notion with the museum example. I also provide evidence of how slovenly we can be by comparison.

Upon returning to Singapore, I learnt that my telco had disabled access to my account information. This was true for the mobile app and the web-based portal.

StarHub app access denied.

I emailed my telco three days ago and have not received a reply. Not even an acknowledgement.

In learning about others, we learn about ourselves. When we look in that mirror, do we like what we see? Do we do something positive about it?

I like travelling because it is an opportunity to get out of my comfort zones — physical, mental, cultural, etc. The dissonance makes me learn.

Here are some things I learnt from my trip to Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Several Instagram embeds to follow.
 

Signs that you are in #amsterdam

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I learnt that mobile tethering is not blocked in the Netherlands because of a law:

Due to the Dutch net neutrality law, VoIP and tethering will not be blocked and traffic will not be prioritized.

We are spoilt in Singapore as tethering is a given. However, even infrequent travel overseas has taught me that this practice is a rarity.

When we arrived at our apartment in Amsterdam, I got to try two new iOS features: 1) Using the camera to scan QR codes at the back a router, and 2) quickly sharing the gobbledygook wifi password with iOS and MacOS devices.
 
QR codes at the back of router.

This meant that just one person needed to scan the code to join the WiFi network. When others wished to join the same network, the first person would receive a prompt to tap on to help the rest join.
 

Stairs from the 6th level to the top floor of the Public Library of Amsterdam #oba #amsterdam

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We stayed in a four-storey apartment and climbed the famously steep Dutch stairs inside the apartment several times a day. (Side note: The photo above is not of our apartment stairs, but of the main Public Library of Amsterdam. My visit to this library deserves an entry of its own!)

I had heard about the steep apartment stairs, but not experienced them first hand. The stairs are more like spiral or near-vertical ladders. With the equally famous commute-by-cycling, it is no wonder that the locals looked fit!
 

#amsterdam looking good while still on #windows8 operating system #prisengracht

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I also noticed that most of the apartments and offices had no curtains. We were able to admire the interiors of homes and offices from the streets and canals. We were able to look right through our immediate neighbour’s apartment to the next building which also had naked windows.

The large windows let the natural light in and this probably helps with warming the place and keeping the mood up. The openness also allows people show off their interior design and/or keep their rooms neat.
 

Exterior of the #rembrandthousemuseum #rembrandthouse #rembranthuis #amsterdam

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Most museums in Amsterdam offer audio devices as guides. The Rembrandt House Museum not only offered multiple languages, it also had a kids version. It was storytelling at its best and I wonder why they even bother with the adult version.
 

This bike was the bright spot on my cold, dreary morning walk. #jordaan #amsterdam #canal

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I already know that Google Maps is the best friend of the independent traveller. I discovered that Amsterdam is one of the rare cities where the shortest travel time often is by bike or on foot, then tram or bus, and finally by car.

Tomorrow I share some things I learnt about the Dutch people.

Yesterday I recounted two examples of how administration disables when it should enable instead. Today I outline a recent incident and suggest how administrators can change for the benefit of all.

Recently one of the projects I had started working on stopped because administrative issues. Long story short: Old school rules were applied to new and uncertain efforts, and both my client and I have to start from the beginning.
 

 
After this happened, I had a chat with one of the administrators involved in the process. Her concerns were no different from the ones I have met before in my current line of work (education consultant) and former work (professor and head of department).

I made a few recommendations and I pick three of the best looking fruit.

  1. Change mindsets of your staff.
  2. Always ask why.
  3. Document meaningfully.

The mindset that needs to go away is the single-minded pursuit of efficiency and productivity, and living only by the letter of the law. It is the mindset of administration that disables by getting in the way. The old mindset needs to be replaced with one that enables by doing what is ethical and logical.

One way to change mindsets is to always ask why an existing policy exists and why someone the administrators are serving is frustrated or wants something done differently. Perhaps the old rules do not apply or the context has changed. Asking why first and taking a stakeholder’s perspective will help reveal the need for change.

Administrative offices are not immune to people that come and go. When people leave, they take their implicit knowledge and good practices with them. One way to prevent this is practising knowledge management, e.g., meaningful documentation.

This means turning what is internal to external forms, e.g., Google Doc records, departmental wikis, video interviews, etc. These references are not just useful for the induction of newbies, they help in the clarification of existing tasks by current staff.

If administrators do these, they might just turn the overused reset or panic button into a power button instead.
 

Thanks to my Twitter PLN, I chanced upon this tweet.

Both my immediate reaction and critical reflection was: Nope, this I don’t like.

I do not have anything against fidget spinners. I do not have anything against practice provided that it is designed based on sound principles, e.g., spaced repetition, interleaving. [1] [2] [3]

It is not enough for teachers to design with just good intent. Their decision-making and implementation must be informed by rigorous research and/or reflective practice.

One design issue discussed in Twitter was that the spinner was meant to be a timer. Spin it, then do as many sums as you can before it stops.

What if the variability of the spinning momentum (some more, some less) an issue?

Is the speed of completion the desired learning outcome?

How is the use of spinners justifiable?

What better alternatives in terms of strategies and tools are there?

I am all for starting with where the learner is at. But my caveat is that the starting point is not to pander. It is to build on prior knowledge or experience and to provide a meaningful challenge.

Teachers may feel the tug of their hearts because they love their students, but they must be led first by their heads. They must first be critically informed or they risk designing in a vacuum and establishing the wrong sort of expectations.

Thanks to YouTube’s algorithms, I discovered a talented musician named Andrew Huang.

This is the original 24K Magic music video by Bruno Mars.


Video source

This is Andrew Huang’s take on the same song with carrots as instruments.


Video source

His creativity stemmed from a challenge to recreate the song about 24 carats with 24 carrots.

There is much more of Huang’s work. The videos below are Can’t Feel My Face by The Weeknd and Huang’s version using instruments at his dentist’s office.


Video source


Video source

This creative expression could have been a combination of making the ordinary less so and learning from a painful experience. You might not feel your face after receiving numbing agents from a dentist.

Huang is undoubtedly talented and we might pick up lessons on creativity. Creativity often:

  • originates from a challenge.
  • emerges from the mundane.
  • is a different way of looking at the same problem.

Creativity might also include being able to see useful links between different domains, e.g., entertainment and education, or personal and professional. 

 
My iPad has a cover that is hanging by its threads. The dust that the cover is supposed to protect the iPad from seems to be holding everything together!

Try as I might, I cannot find the good covers from a few years ago. Stores have flimsy knockoffs or ugly covers, and one online store directed me to a Korean supplier if I wanted a good brand.

I wondered why iPad covers were so difficult to find. Then I remembered some tweets and articles I read.

For example, this was the statistic on the now low reliance of tablets for web surfing.

If you follow the data, this drop seems to be trending over the last few years.

One of the hardest hit might be the iPad. A recent article revealed that the Chromebook was the rising king in US classrooms.

Why? Some answers are generic to any educational technology, but Larry Cuban provided some clues.

Trends like these sound and feel distant. How do these matter to a decision-maker in Singapore, for example?

First, it is important to at least be aware of the data and trends. These are not always objective truths because they are subject to interpretation, but analysing and evaluating these should be the minimum due diligence of any decision-maker.

Second, the centralised purchasing trends need to be juxtaposed with BYOD trends. If teachers and students already have their own devices, the context has changed and so must rules, policies, and purchasing decisions.

If decision-makers collect data in their own schools, they will realise that the BYOD devices tend to be phones, not slates or laptops. The phones are cheaper, lighter, convenient, and essential to learners and teachers alike.

Third, and most importantly, the devices (school-provided or BYOD) need to be custom-integrated into curricula, assessment, and context. What works in one academic subject or school may not transfer to another. And if assessment remains rooted in the traditional technology of pen and paper, there will be little incentive to change.

I doubt that many will draw such extensions and lessons from missing iPad covers. But I do because I reflect on what I read on my iPad about such matters. Now back to my hunt for a replacement cover…

Last year I outlined how the poorly designed McCafe app could be used to learn design principles. Missteps and mistakes are often the best sources of learning.

My StarHub is an app that I use to check my data consumption and it is a wellspring of lessons on how NOT to design a mobile app.

The app claims to let users customise what they see. Currently, there are four fixed cards and six selectable ones. The latter are selected by default.

One cannot actually customise as 1) there are fixed selections (including ads), and 2) if deselected, the optional cards return after restarting the app.

The people behind the StarHub app might have forgotten (or do not care) that the customer likes to customise. Perhaps they need to adopt a new custom and repeat it as a mantra.

The app also breaks the old web page three-click rule. This is the rule that states that a user should be able to find what they need within three mouse clicks. In the mobile app universe, this should be a one or two tap rule given the nature of the platform.

Once I open the app, I need to make six taps to know how much data I have consumed in detail. I need to tap on:

  1. My Account.
  2. Mobile usage.
  3. The filter option (I manage and pay for my family’s numbers and mine does not appear by default and I have no option to choose my mobile number as default.)
  4. My number in the filter.
  5. The done button.
  6. Data usage to view current usage.

The app offers a minimalist graphic on main page that looks nice, but 1) it does not always appear, 2) when it does, it sometimes happens after a delay, 3) it is not detailed enough for my needs.

All this puts form over function and the needs of the designers over that of the user. This makes for a terrible app experience and I am reminded of it every time I use it.

Designers of user interfaces should be familiar with the concept of user-centric design. I wish more were passionate about the practice of the same. This is particularly important for designers of educational apps, especially those that provide access to content and learning management systems. No one wants angry, frustrated, or anxious users even before the learning begins.


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